“I was just with Eslaveth,” Shannondant protested. “She was worried about you when she left, but she wasn’t upset.”
There were far too many emotions showing on his face and Tehveor tried to pull the worry into a mask. “Did you tell her that we were to marry?”
The girl blinked, shaking her head slowly. “No. We worked on the timeline together, but there’s nothing of your marriage at all in it. Why? Is that what she was upset over?”
“I think she was more upset over people not telling her things than the things themselves,” Tehveor answered, though he wasn’t sure that it was true.
The sun would be rising soon. He couldn’t seek her out at the inn without calling attention to both of them. He swallowed. “If she returns before I do, please tell her things aren’t like they appear and I’d like a chance to clarify.”
“Clarify what?” Shannondant asked.
The call of a bird echoed through the caves with the resonance of a man’s lips and the two fell silent staring at each others.
“Someone’s approaching,” she whispered.
Tehveor reached for his cloak, wincing at the movements required to pull it on. The call came from the back parts of the cave, from the direction of the entrances near the river. The intruder would have to take a complex path before he stumbled onto the man caverns of the room. No one would meet him with a sword unless he ventured too far into the caves.
But Decharo rushed into the room, grabbing Tehveor’s arm and whispering fiercely. “I don’t know who it is. But he’s wearing your family’s colors.”
“What?” Tehveor asked. Had his father followed? No matter who it is, he had to meet them, to draw them away. He clutched Decharos’ arm in return asking, “Where is he?”
“Just passed the river’s opening,” Decaharo said.
Tehveor took a torch, already turning over explanations in his head. The light from the torch flooded the path, illuminate Joshah’s sharp features. His brother swung toward him lifting an arrow, relaxing the string only when Tehvoer called out, “It’s me!”
“What is this, Tehveor?” Joshah’s question was almost stern, but he couldn’t have seen any of the writing, and this far from the main chambers, it was unlikely he’d seen any workers either.
“Caves,” Tehveor answered. “I found them a few years ago during a storm.”
“Birds don’t live in caves,” Joshah called, “And their calls don’t echo outside of them. Who else is here?”
His brother was doing himself no favors, so blatantly showing his suspicion. He swallowed and said, “Come on. I’ve got a light. We’ll find the entrance and return another day. I’ll show you around then.”
He stepped toward the path that led to the opening, but Joshah stayed planted, flickering his eyes from Tehveor’s torch to his boots before he nodded and fell into step. But close to Tehveor’s ears, he asked, “Is Master Gregorn here?”
He wasn’t going to let him alone without explanation. Tehveor tried to compromise with half the truth. “This is where Gregorn procures the herbs for Darshon. But they don’t like outsiders.”
“I’m not an outsider,” Joshah said. “I’m your brother. And you’re trembling.”
“Shh,” Tehveor hissed, casting the soldier a look. “You are not safe here. Walk.”
Joshah obeyed, but his frown grew. “Why are you lying to me?”
“I’m not lying,” Tehveor lied.
“Yes, you are,” Joshah snapped. “I’ll leave, but you’re leaving with me, and you’re going to tell me what is going on here.”
“I’ll tell you anything if you’ll walk faster!” Tehveor hissed through grit teeth.
He watched Joshah’s mouth tighten, but the river roared below, preventing them from talking at all without shouting. Joshah’s eyes lifted, searching the crevices above them. His fingers still clutched the notched arrow. When a rock fell nearby, he halted, aiming into the darkness. Tehveor grabbed his arm, jerking his aim off balance and sending the arrow to the ground.
“They won’t’ hurt you if you leave!” He snapped. “Come along!”
Joshah turned his head, eyes sweeping down Tehveor. He knelt to pick up the arrow, replacing it into his quiver before he asked, “Who are you?”
Tehveor’s shoulders collapsed as he flinched under the sudden suspicion of his brother.
“Tehveor,” he answered. “Now come. Just come.”
He turned and walked, deciding not to stop until he’d reached the mouth of the caves, giving Joshah no choice but to follow. A sudden surge of dirt cracked, rolled, clattered, creating a soft sound in his left ear that was nearly covered by the distant roar in his right. The sudden cry from Joshah filled both. He spun around in time to see Joshah’s bow scrap across the path, spinning into the rocks that lined one wall. Joshah’s body disappeared over the ledge; knees, waist, chest swallowed by the cavern dug by the river that roared below. Joshah caught the ledge with his finger.
Tehveor slide to his knees, wrapping his hands around Joshah’s arms. Earth fell from the side cliff beneath Joshah’s shoes as he searched for a steady foothold. His muscles trembled as he pulled his weight with one arm, working his elbow over the ledge with the other.
Tehveor cried for help and the words resonated off the walls before he realized they were Sentarrish. Joshah pushed himself a few inches higher, countering his weight against the jagged ledge. Tehveor searched for a handhold, finding only Joshah’s shirt.
And then the foothold gave. Joshah’s arm scraped off the edge, taking another inch of the surface with it. His hand went free, waving before Tehveor grabbed it.
“No, no, I’ll pull you over!” Joshah shouted.
Tehveor scooted backward, trying to haul his brother up, cursing at the Sentarrian watch for not coming to his aid. A hand clamped Tehveor’s shoulder, reinforcing his stability. But a black boot slammed into the joint between Joshah’s collarbone, breaking their hold. Joshah’s head disappeared, then his fingers. The arms wrapped around Tehveor’s chest, dragging him from the ledge. He screamed, wrestling free and falling onto his hands and knees.
The daylight from the entrance lit the rapids, highlighting the water that leapt away from Joshah’s body as it hit the water.
“Tehveor, no!” Now it was Decharo’s voice, coming from the far right.
When Joshah resurfaced, Tehveor shoved himself to a stand, rushing to the rope the men used to gather water. Shaking, he slid down the rope he’d meant to repel, landing with a jolt that traveled up his spine. Joshah swam with the current, making a slow crossing toward him, but the water churned around the rocks in a large circle, sweeping him back into the center of the river. His head turned, searching for shore, then swung to the right just before his shoulder crashed against a bolder that loomed from the stream like a ragged tooth. The current dragged him beneath the surface. Tehveor rushed into the water, feeling the current tug at his own boots. It was too deep. He couldn’t swim and even the shallow undertow nearly knocked him down. Joshah’s head reappeared, slammed into another rock, knocked to the side. His body slacked riding the rapids as the water carried him toward a shallow passage. He should stand, but his face stayed in the water, his back bobbing to the surface, giving no protest as two currents collided, twisting it into a circle before sending it through the mouth of the cave.

“It was Fate that eroded his footing. It was Fate that prevented you from falling with him. Joshah was trying to stop your destiny. This is what I warned you about!”
Tehveor’s face was as wet as the body he clutched against his chest. He’d never seen so many Sentarrians in daylight, though most of them blurred and cleared through his tears. Decharo knelt next to him, the only one who’d helped pull Joshah from the rapids.
Skafar to one side, Gregorn to the other, various men from the lookouts completing, some distressed but every mouth pulled down in disapproval.
And though he’d just been demanding to know why they hadn’t answered his summons for help, he snarled like a dog when one of the men stepped closer.
“Stay away from him!”
Joshah’s head rolled with the movement, blood trickling from his mouth. His limp arms were already stiffening, already setting into a chill that carried into Tehveor’s skin.
“Sire, we mustn’t stay in the open,” the man protested.
“Get me a horse!” Tehveor snapped, shifting Joshah’s body before it began slumping again. “I’m taking him home!”
Gregorn’s head rolled back, before her burst, “You’re returning home is what brought him here in the first place!” His voice fell to a hushed whisper, “He’s dead, Tehveor. Taking him back’s going to do no good and if you do the king may not let you leave again!”
“We’ll bury him here,” Decharo said. “No one need know.”
“Get me a horse!” Tehveor screamed. “I will not spend one more day doing as Fate requires unless you help me get him home! I’ll come!” His shout faded as he realized he meant the words. “I come,” he repeated in a whisper. “But have to do things first.”
Gregorn pinched his lips together. Decharo brought a horse. They worked without speaking or looking at each other as they strapped Joshah onto the horse Terrant had given Tehveor that morning.
“He’ll turn back,” someone muttered behind him, “when the shock wears off.”
But he didn’t. Tehveor grabbed the reins as Gregorn set a hand on his arm. “The horse will take him home,” he said. “You need not go. You father will believe you were taken. Your mother will come here and know the truth. She can find something to tell him.”
Tehveor glared, yanking hard on the reins, starting the trek home. The animal followed, flickering its ears as Tehveor’s heavy breaths turned into ragged sobs.
Don’t think of it. Don’t think of it.
He shut off thoughts of the past and future. He focused on each step, some meeting spongy ground, others crunching against rock, one after another after another until he was too weak to stand. Driven by the fear that Fate would follow him and demand him back, he eased himself onto the animal in front of Joshah letting it take him back to his family’s home.
The clattering gate mingled with surprised cries and barked orders of the guards. Servants, stablehands all responded, rushing toward them. Setta’s cry rose above the hubbub as she pushed her way through the parting crowd, just as the gatekeeper cut the rope.
The woman’s hands went to her head, a strangled cry wrenching as several men stepped to catch Joshah’s body. It landed in Terrant’s arms, sending the man to his knees as he lowered his son before his face swung toward Tehveor.
“What happened?”
Tehveor sat frozen, feeling his mouth hang incapacitate, suddenly wishing he had sent the horse alone. He swung from the animal and the world swirled until someone caught his arms.
“The river,” he croaked. “He hit the rocks.”
He flinched at their faces, spying Terrant’s general confusion, and hearing mother’s drawn breath of suspicion.
“What river?” Terrant asked.
“By the caves,” Tehveor answered.
Setta hunched like someone had hit her. General Larson reached to catch her as Terrant lifted Joshah. Darkness crept into Tehveor’s vision as his mind sought the same refuge it had when he’d been forced to beat Decharo. The majority of the group moved toward the castle with Terrant.
“Come inside, Sire,” General Larson whispered into his ear. “You’re not well.”
“I can’t stay,” Tehveor whispered.
But Setta pulled her shoulders back, gasping for breath as she held out her hand. After a moment, he took it. Curse Sentarra.